e.g., i.e., etc.

Here’s some advice I read about preparing for an earthquake:

• Know your safe spots in your home, i.e. against inside walls or under tables.

• Maintain emergency water, food, and other supplies, i.e. first aid kits, flash light, etc.

My topic today is the difference between e.g. and i.e.

These two abbreviations are not synonyms.

For the Latin buffs, e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means ‘for example,’ while i.e. stands for id est and means ‘it is.’

In short:

e.g. = for example (followed by one or more examples)
i.e. = in other words/namely/that is (followed by a definition or description)

If you can replace it with ‘for example,’ use e.g.; if you can replace it with ‘namely,’ use i.e.

Note that both abbreviations are followed by a comma.

Let’s return to our original example:

• Know your safe spots in your home, i.e. against inside walls or under tables.

Try replacing the abbreviation with ‘for example’ or ‘namely’:

(a) Know your safe spots in your home, for example, against inside walls or under tables.

(b) Know your safe spots in your home, namely, against inside walls or under tables.

Option (a) means there are various safe spots during an earthquake but these are just two examples. Option (b) means that there are only two safe spots indoors during an earthquake: against inside walls and under tables.

The correct option really depends on what was meant. (Here’s where as an editor you might want to check with the author to find out what they meant to say.)

My guess for now is that the first choice was meant since a google search tells me there are other safe spots, such as under desks, in a doorway, in a hallway, and under a bed. Thus, the sentence should be corrected to:

• Know your safe spots in your home (e.g., against inside walls or under tables).

(Note that I also prefer to use parentheses to set the list of examples apart more clearly.)

One last point: when you give a list of examples, use either e.g. at the beginning or etc. at the end, but not both.

So, to come back to the second example at the top:

• Maintain emergency water, food, and other supplies, i.e. first aid kits, flash light, etc.

What are the two problems with this sentence?

First, it uses i.e. when it should use e.g. (because there are many other kinds of supplies that one needs besides first aid kits and a flash light).

Second, it also ends the list with etc., which is really redundant.

Either of these corrections would be fine:

• Maintain emergency water, food, and other supplies (first aid kits, flash light, etc.).

• Maintain emergency water, food, and other supplies (e.g., first aid kits, flash light).

Let’s close with a quick exercise. Take a look at these sentences. What abbreviation would you use?

1. Do not let the batteries come into contact with water ( ____ sea water) or other liquids.

2. We shall not be liable for any damage to this product caused by the malfunction of non-genuine accessories ( ____ a leakage and/or explosion of a battery pack).

3. E.I. sickness benefits fall into a “second payer” position ( ____ they are paid after other sources of disability income).

4. E.I. benefits will be reduced by other benefits, ____ Workers’ Comp, CPP, Group disability.

Here’s what I would do:

(1) e.g. (salt water is mentioned as one example)

(2) e.g. (because this is only one example of damage from a non-genuine accessory)

(3) i.e. (because this is a definition of what is meant by the phrase “second payor”)

(4) e.g. (assuming there are other benefits)

Have a good day!

(And don’t forget to take precautions for earthquakes and other disasters.)

Dirk

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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2 Comments

  1. I advise writers to avoid both e.g. and i.e. — use them only if you don’t have the space for the English equivalent. I’ve done informal surveys of readers — all college graduates — on what they thought those abbreviations meant. More than 90% either didn’t know, or thought i.e. meant “for example” and “e.g.” meant “that is.” Most of the respondents admitted to skipping over those abbreviations without regard to their meaning. So, if it’s important that your readers know you are giving them just a few examples (and not an exhaustive list) and you have the space, use “for example,” “such as,” and the like.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Laura. That’s a very good point and one that Chicago makes too (in The Chicago Manual of Style) when it says (about e.g. and i.e.) that “the English equivalents are preferable in formal prose” (p. 218, 15th ed.). Neither of these sentences was from “formal prose” but I think the same applies here. One option instead of e.g. (as you point out) is to use the phrase ‘such as’—which is what I did halfway down this post in the sentence “a google search tells me there are other safe spots, such as under desks, in a doorway, in a hallway, and under a bed.” Again, thanks for the helpful tip!

      Reply

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